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Updated July 16, 2021

Q. What is practical training?

Practical training is a benefit for F-1 students that lets them work in the US to get additional training in their major field of study. There are two main types of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). CPT is used during studies for off-campus internship or practicum experiences. While OPT can be used before completing studies, most students use OPT for employment and training after finishing studies (post-completion OPT).

Q. What is the waiting period before I can start working for CPT or OPT?

Both types of practical training - CPT and OPT - require you to have completed at least one academic year (two semesters) of full-time study inside the US before you can start using your CPT or apply for OPT. The only exception to this waiting period requirement is if you are a graduate student and your program requires students to do a mandatory (required) internship or practicum in the first year.

Q. What happens if I am studying outside the US for part or all of the year due to COVID-19? How does this affect the waiting period?

Unfortunately, the rules for becoming eligible to do CPT or OPT have not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under current Department of Homeland Security rules, you must still have studied on a full-time basis inside the US for at least two semesters before you would qualify for CPT or OPT. Therefore:

    • If you started your Tufts program outside the US and have not been in the US previously, you must be able to come to the US and complete two semesters of full-time study (this can include your final semester of study, which does not need to be full-time) in the US before you would be eligible for OPT / CPT.
    • If you were a full-time student inside the US in March 2020 (when the pandemic started), but have since been studying outside of the US on a full-time basis, we can count your semesters of full-time study toward your two semesters of eligibility.
    • If you spend your entire program outside the US, you will not be eligible for practical training since practical training eligibility requires US presence in F-1 status. Note that you are not required to have CPT or OPT eligibility if you are doing an internship or work while outside the US. Practical training is only needed to let you do work-based training while inside the US.

Q. What happens if I take a leave of absence during the Fall 2021 semester? How does this affect the waiting period?

A leave of absence (for non-medical reasons) is technically a break in status and may affect your OPT / CPT eligibility. It also requires us to terminate your SEVIS record and I-20, rendering it inactive while you are outside the US during your leave of absence. Your OPT / CPT eligibility will depend on how long you are outside the US. If it is only one semester, we will ask the US Department of Homeland Security to consider reactivating your I-20 from 'inactive' to 'active' status. If Homeland Security approves, your previous time in the US will count toward the one year waiting period. If Homeland Security does not approve the request, or if you are outside the US is more than one semester, you will need to come back to the US on an initial attendance I-20 and restart the OPT / CPT "clock," which requires two semesters of full-time study. Unfortunately, the International Center is unable to provide any guarantees about how the Department of Homeland Security will process a reactivation request.

Note that this doesn't apply to F-1 students who qualify for a medical leave of absence and are approved by the International Center for a medical reduced course load. In these cases, a medical leave doesn't require departure from the US and you are considered to be maintaining valid F-1 status during that time.

Q. Can I do internships or training outside the US? Do I need to get approval for CPT or OPT approval?

F-1 rules and regulations don't apply outside the US, so you do not need to apply for OPT or CPT if your internship or training experience will be outside the US. However, you should review the exact situation with your International Center advisor and with your internship provider. Depending on the timing and how long you will be gone from the US (or if you will return to the US at all), we may need to give you advice about your enrollment and immigration status. Otherwise, work with your employer about your training experience.

Q. I got an internship but due to COVID-19, the internship had to be canceled. What should I do about my CPT approval?

You do not need CPT if your internship activity no longer will take place. However, since most students have to register for internship or practicum credit with their Tufts department or program, talk to the program about alternative ways of getting practical, internship experience. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many departments are working with students and faculty to provide alternative learning experiences that can 'substitute' for your original internship or practicum offer.

Q. I am studying outside the US and it will be my final semester. Can I apply for post-completion OPT from my home country?

USCIS application instructions state that you must apply for OPT from inside the US while in F-1 student status. This has not changed during the pandemic. This means that to apply for OPT, you are supposed to do while inside the US in F-1 status.

Q. Due to COVID-19, will the rules on unemployment be relaxed? I know that as an F-1 student on post-completion OPT, I am only given 90 days when I do not have to have any employment. (STEM OPT students are given an additional 60 days of unemployment.)

The Department of Homeland Security has not relaxed the 90-day unemployment rule for standard post-completion OPT or the additional 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT extension. Students are still expected to have valid OPT / STEM OPT employment. Remember that for post-completion OPT, acceptable employment can include volunteering, self-employment, and other paid or unpaid activities. As long as the activities are related to your major, you can include this as valid post-completion OPT employment. (However, STEM OPT must be a paid employment relationship with a STEM employer.)